In the latest in our series in which athletes reflect on their memories of competing at the IAAF World U20 Championships, Chilean thrower Natalia Duco recalls striking gold at the 2008 event in Bydgoszcz.
Natalia Duco was already an experienced performer on the global age-group stage, having finished fourth in the shot put at the 2005 IAAF World Youth Championships and then 12th at the following year’s IAAF World Junior Championships in Beijing.
In the latter event, the then 17-year-old set a national junior record of 15.48m in qualification but finished more than three metres down on the gold medallist Melissa Boekelman of the Netherlands in the final.
After competing in Beijing, Duco and her Cuban coach Dulce Margarita Garcia plotted a two-year plan to strike gold at the 2008 World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz.
Everything appeared on track when the Chilean smashed her own national record and area junior record with a mighty 18.65m effort at the Ibero-American Championships three weeks out from her Polish assignment.
“My coach and I wanted gold (in Bydgoszcz),” she insists. “We only had one thing in our mind.”
Despite her relative international experience, Bydgoszcz was her first competition in Europe. She had “nice memories” of staying in a small family-run hotel, which was more like a big house in the countryside.
Duco enjoyed one day out in the city with her family, who had travelled from Chile to watch her compete. “We enjoyed the beautiful place, good food and nice people,” she recalls.
Yet she was blown away by the greeting she received from the hotel owners after securing her gold medal.
“They were waiting for me with flowers and food, it was like a party,” she explains. “There were so many other nice athletes also there to share this moment with me.”
With Duco also planning to compete at the following month’s Olympic Games, she wanted to treat qualification in a part as a dress rehearsal for Beijing. The 19-year-old Chilean was delighted to hurl the metal ball out to an impressive 17.89m with her first-round effort to top the qualifiers from Germany’s Sophie Kleeberg (16.20m).
Her margin on the rest of the world during qualification was impressive. But with defending champion Boekelman also in the field, Duco knew the scale of the challenge.
As was the case in qualification, the Chilean took control of the final from her first throw, launching the shot out to 17.23m. Twice more during the competition she exceeded the 17-metre mark, but her opening-round throw was enough to guarantee gold. Boekelman saved her best of 16.60m for the final stanza to grab silver, yet it would be Duco who would stand on top of the podium.
“Immediately after the competition, I got this feeling, like I am number one in the world and just for a second it feels great,” she recalls. “It gives you a desire to feel that same emotion in future and it fills you with confidence.”
In the wake of winning Chile’s first ever global athletics title, Duco shed tears of joy and she recalls crying in the doping control when her big sister, Catalina, gave her a hug and asked her why she was crying.
“I said, ‘I don’t know’ and then Catalina made a round sphere shape with her hands and told me, ‘this is the world and you are on top. You need to be happy and enjoy the moment’.”
Duco admits that competing at a World Junior Championships offers invaluable experience by teaching athletes how to compete on a major platform against the best athletes across the planet.
“It’s amazing, the best thing ever,” she says of her two World Junior Championships.
The most important aspect she gleaned from the twin experiences was an overwhelming desire to become a full-time athlete.
“It was really important to experience these championships, the desire to become a professional and be part of the IAAF family. After competing in Marrakesh, I decided I wanted to live this life and be a part of it.”
One month after her gold-medal-winning success in Bydgoszcz, Duco competed at the Beijing Olympic Games, where she finished 22nd overall. Since then the Chilean has been a regular at global international championships. She has featured at the past four World Championships, earning a spot in the final at the past two editions for 11th in Moscow (2013) and ninth in Beijing (2015).
In 2013 she landed bronze medals at the World University Games and at the Pan American Games. The undoubted highlight of her senior career came at the London 2012 Olympics where she posted a national record of 18.80m – which still stands today – to place ninth.
Advice for the next generation
The Chilean shot putter has enjoyed an international athletics career for more than a decade and she hopes athletes competing in Bydgoszcz next month for the latest edition of the World U20 Championships can bask in the joy of the event.
“They need to take the opportunity to shine and to enjoy athletics in the most intense way they can,” she explains. “Athletics is a way of life, it’s a family. And by competing at a World Junior Championships, they will be a part of that.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF